Everton continued their impressive start to the season with a 4-2 win against Brighton & Hove Albion. The Toffees are now back at the top of the table after making it four wins out of four. The in-form James Rodriguez inspired Everton to yet another win by scoring two goals and assisted another to keep perfect start intact. Yet again, Dominic Calvert-Lewin open the scoring and gave a 16th minute lead, but an error from Jordan Pickford brought the Seagulls level four minutes before first half. Everton restored their lead before the half-time by heading in a free kick from Rodriguez. In the second half, Calvert-Lewin slipped in Alex Iwobi but couldn’t meet the cross which landed at the feet of Rodriguez, who was unmarked, and he finished from close range to give Everton a 2-1 lead. Rodriguez did the same thing once again, a carbon copy of his first goal, but this time Abdoulaye Doucoure crossed the ball. The Seagulls’ midfielder Yves Bissouma pulled one back with a cracking shot from long range in stoppage time. It was a little too late to deny Everton their fourth successive league win, which is their best start to a Premier League season.
In this tactical analysis, we will have a look at how Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton was able to get through an organised and compact Brighton defence. The analysis will also show you the tactics used by both team managers.
On Saturday afternoon, Everton lined up in a familiar 4-3-3 formation. Pickford started in goal, making his 118th consecutive Premier League appearance. The back four remained the same from their previous win against Crystal Palace. They made two changes in the midfield. Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurðsson started their first league match this season, coming in for the injured duo Allan and André Gomes. The usual forward three of Calvert-Lewin, Rodriguez and Richarlison, who have already scored 13 goals between them, led the line for Everton.
Graham Potter picked his usual 3-4-2-1 formation. Ben White, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster the preferred centre-backs this season started the match in front of Mat Ryan. The only change to the line-up was made in the midfield. Bissouma replaced the former Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana who was back from a 3-match suspension, after his red card against Newcastle United and started alongside Steven Alzate in the middle. Former Chelsea defender Tariq Lamptey and Solly March continued as the wingbacks. Aaron Connolly led the line and behind him Leandro Trossard started on the right and Neal Maupay on the left.
Brighton’s possession play
Potter always wants his team to play possession-based and attacking football. He likes to choose the formation and style of play according to his opposition. Brighton concentrate to play through the centre. Once an opponent picks a side to force them, in return the Seagulls force their opponents to stay on that side and start playing long balls from one side to other. Now, we will have a look at Brighton’s possession play.
Brighton always set up in a 3-2-4-1 formation when they start their build-up play. Most of the time, the goalkeeper starts by passing the ball to either of the centre-backs who then look to play the ball to the wing-backs. Bissouma and Alzate operate as a double pivot to help in distributing the ball from one side to the other. They will look for runs from their forwards in behind the opposition defenders.
During transition from defence to attack, you will notice Lamptey and March taking up advanced attacking positions on the touchline and, centre-backs White and Webster spreading out wide. In this way, they can stretch the play and attack from the wide channels.
In the second half, when Everton started pressing higher and committed more men to the press, the Brighton midfielders and defenders were getting outnumbered. Thus, like in the above picture, Maupay dropped in between the lines to give support and progress the play. This created a numerical superiority and a 5 v 4 overload in the middle third for Brighton.
The above picture is another example of when Brighton getting stuck in their defensive third and then could bypass Everton’s high press. Webster carried the ball from the left side of the box towards the centre and plays a simple pass to Bissouma. The midfielder makes a half turn and plays a chipped pass to their wing-back Joel Veltman, who was left unmarked over the head of Iwobi, and the Dutch defender had acres of space in front of him. In this way, the Seagulls beat Everton’s high press.
Brighton’s half-hearted offensive and defensive approach
In the entire game, Brighton had 58% possession of the ball accounting for a total number of 505 passes at an accuracy of 86% while the performances of the midfielders and defenders have shown signs of encouragement, there appears to be a gaping hole in the final-third. A team can only be good as its front line. We will now have a look at how Brighton could have been more effective offensively and defensively.
As you can see in the above picture, March is isolated on the left flank, ready to bombard the acres of space in front of him. Alzate had different ideas rather than attacking the space by playing a long ball in the path of March. He plays a back pass to Webster. There were few more instances like these where Brighton could have stretched Everton’s defence, but the midfielders preferred to keep it short and play it safe.
In the first half, Everton had 52% possession of the ball. Brighton used a very half-hearted approach to stop the Toffees from keeping possession. As you can see in the above picture, Brighton’s 3 forwards are engaged in a high press against the Toffees. Doucoure drops to give an additional option to his defenders and hence creates a numerical superiority. Keane plays a simple pass to Doucoure through the high press. In this way, Everton created a 5 v 3 overload and could bypass the opposition’s high press. Only Brighton’s front 3 pressed whilst the other players would stay back and maintain their defensive position, making the team disjointed whilst neglecting the space in the middle at the same time. It is the least effective pressing system which shows a lack of coaching, of pressing. As a result, Brighton had a PPDA (Opponent passes per defensive actions) of only 20.8 in the first half.
Everton’s build-up play
Ancelotti is known to be a tactically flexible coach; he likes to play to the strengths of his team than enforcing his own beliefs. As we know the Toffees began the game in a 4-3-3 formation which was very fluid. We will see how they changed their shape and what all tweaks were being made to bypass Brighton’s defence.
As you can see in the above picture, Everton has switched to 4-1-4-1 formation. Davies is operating as a single pivot, while Sigurðsson and Doucoure were operating in between the lines with different roles. Doucoure was more involved in the build-up play and provided support to Coleman and Rodriguez, whereas Sigurðsson was supporting Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison/Iwobi.
Many a time, we could see Rodriguez drifting into central positions in the middle third from the right flank, like in the above picture. Thus, Coleman would take his position on the right flank and Doucoure would drop back into the defence line as a right back or right centre-back. This tactic played well for the Toffees as it helped them to release pressure when the right flank would get overloaded by making use of Rodriguez’s creativity and vision.
In the above picture, Everton is set up in 2-3-2-3 formation. This tactical flexibility of their 4-1-4-1 allowed them to expand the field and stretch Brighton’s narrow and compact defence. In the first line, we can see Yerry Mina and Michael Keane open wide to receive the ball. The second line of attack comprises Coleman, Davies and Digne. Davies is a crucial player as part of this shape, it requires him to be the anchor in the midfield; postionally sound and physically adept while Coleman and Digne are positioned as wide midfielders to provide width. We can also see Doucoure and Sigurðsson operating in the half spaces which will force the opposition midfielders to cover more ground and it will confuse them who to mark.
Everton’s attacking rotations and one-two passing
The Toffees made use of attacking rotations and one-two passing to offer support to the man in possession of the ball and create a passing lane behind the immediate line of pressure to advance forward. As we know the Seagulls like to hold a high defensive line and their forwards stay very high to press. Their midfielders and defenders push up to build pressure on the opponents to stop them from playing short and forcing them long. We will have a look at a few instances in which Everton players were able to break forward by rotating positions and one-two passing.
In the above instance, we can see Coleman in the middle third moving from the halfway line towards the final-third. He plays a simple pass on to the feet of Doucoure and moves forward. Doucoure plays a one-touch pass to Rodriguez, who’s on the touchline.
Then Rodriguez plays a one-pass to Coleman, who’s making an under-lapping run from behind the back of Alzate. Coleman drives forward with the ball and takes a shot to the low left corner of the goal from outside the box, and Ryan makes the save.
Coleman dribbles past Connolly, plays a pass to Doucoure and moves forward. Meanwhile, Doucoure plays a one-touch pass to Rodriguez on the touchline and we can see March and Alzate running towards the Columbian.
The Columbian superstar manages to lay off the ball on to Coleman’s path. Once again Coleman breaks forward with the ball, but he’s later fouled by Alzate and Brighton gives away a free kick.
Here we can see Coleman intercepting the ball and plays a one-touch pass to Sigurðsson. The Iceland international plays a one-touch pass to Davies, and then Davies plays it to Calvert-Lewin while Iwobi makes a run on the left flank behind White’s back. Everton is able to get out of this congested area by playing a series of beautiful one-touch passes.
Calvert-Lewin receives the ball and immediately turns and plays a through ball into the path of Iwobi, who breaks forward into the middle third behind White’s back. He goes till the touchline on the left flank, waiting for his teammates to join the attack.
James Rodriguez – “The Artist”
It was not the best performance that we have seen from the South American star since he joined the club. Still, he was sensational, and his quality is unquestionable. He has already become an important player to Everton. He assisted Mina’s goal before half-time to grab a lead in the match and scored two quick-fire goals from close range after half-time, which brought the Toffees in a secure position. Rodriguez is getting better with each game, which will be quite encouraging for the manager, Ancelotti. Let’s have a look at his contributions in this match.
March gave away a needless free kick near the right-hand corner flag in the injury time of the first half. As you can see in the above picture Rodriguez plants the free kick straight onto Everton’s no. 13, Mina, who wouldn’t miss the target from five yards. He scores a simple goal and Everton re-took the lead.
In the above instance, Trossard gifted possession to the Toffees, 30 yards from the goal. Then Calvert-Lewin slipped Iwobi through inside and on the left side of the box. Iwobi’s low driven cross reaches an unmarked Rodriguez at the far post and the Columbian places the ball into an empty goal for his first goal of the match. Rodriguez was there at the right place and the right time to give the Toffees a comfortable lead of two goals.
While on the counter, at the centre of the pitch, Brighton again conceded possession. Doucoure plays a lovely one-two pass around the box, and Doucoure finds an unmarked Rodriguez with a chipped cross. The Columbian International taps it into the net for his second goal of the game with his weaker foot.
This was Everton’s seventh win out of seven in all competitions, and they added Brighton to their list of victims. Another impressive score line did not flatter the Toffees, as there is still room for improvement. Pickford’s erratic display did not matter much, but he looks like a weak point now. Anyway, the Seagulls made far more defensive mistakes and Everton took full advantage of them. Everton put a little more pressure on in the second half. Still, Brighton continued to attack, but their mistakes earlier made it easy for the Toffees. Brighton has been visiting Everton at Goodison Park since 1913. They haven’t registered a win in nine matches, “not so Good-ison” I guess?